“Killy Kranky”


"Killy Krankie is my song, Sing and dance it all day long, From my elbow to my wrist, Then we do the double twist." "Broke my arm, I broke my arm, a-swinging pretty Nancy." The dancers are encouraged into other difficult positions


Despite the Ritchie spelling, which I assume will be the best-known form of this piece, is no doubt in my mind that the title of this song derives from the battle of Killiecrankie (1689). But her words have obviously wandered far, and the tune does not match either of the two I know as "Killiecrankie."

Ritchie says that this "was both a game and a song and not much of either one. The players sang the song while they 'wound the grapevine,' ... all of which Uncle Jason [from whom she learned the song] avowed was just a good excuse to get their arms around each other."

Hudson's text (with no tune) doesn't appear to be a playparty, and clearly derives from a Scots original, but appears confused ("I've fought on land and I've fought on sea, At home I've fought my auntie O"?!). I'm still looking for an intact version of this song.

The Battle of Killiecrankie effectively ended the fight in Scotland on behalf of James II in the Glorious Revolution.

Dundee (John Graham of Claverhouse, first Viscount Dundee, 1648-1689) led a small Jacobite army in an attack on Williamite forces led by General Hugh Mackay. The Jacobite cause was entirely dependent on Dundee, but he fought in the front line of the battle (he had to prove his courage, and promised that, if he won, he would not join the fray again). The Jacobites won, but Dundee was killed, and that was that. The more so as the victory was not decisive; Mackay kept his forced together, and their losses were not extreme.

Peter Underwood in _A Gazetteer of British, Scottish & Irish Ghosts_, pp. 378-379, states that Dundee had a vision before the battle, seemingly of a mortally wounded man calling the general to the field of Killiecrankie. Supposedly, every July 27, a red haze can be seen by some (but not all) over the battlefield; this is linked to Dundee's vision. (If you think this sounds very much like the story of Duncan Campbell at Ticonderoga -- yes, it does. For the Campbell legend, in addition to Richard Nardin's "The Piper's Refrain," see Walter R. Borneman, _The French and Indian War_ Harper-Collins, 2006, pp. 136-137.)

Peculiarly, I recently heard a classical recording of the tune "Killiecrankie" (definitely the same melody as that recorded by Archie Fisher and others as a Jacobite tune) which claimed that it came from c. 1600, i.e. well *before* the battle. I have been unable to determine the source of this claim. But I also have heard a classical type call the piece "Gillycrankie" (not sure about the spelling, but the first consonant was pretty definitely a "G"), so what do they know?- RBW

Historical references

  • July 27, 1689 - Battle of Killiecrankie

Cross references


  1. Ritchie-SingFam, pp. 111-112, "[Killy Kranky]" (1 text, 1 tune)
  2. Ritchie-Southern, p. 4, "Killy Kranky" (1 text, 1 tune)
  3. Hudson 54, pp. 170-171, "Killiecrankie" (1 text)
  4. DT, KILCRNK2*
  5. Roud #2572
  6. BI, JRSF111


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1936 (Hudson)
Keywords: playparty dancing
Found in: US(Ap)